Catching the mayfly bite at the Barnett Reservoir requires teamwork. I am lucky to have a coworker that travels the Trace in the morning and I have asked, no, begged him to let me know when he sees mayflies on his way to work near the reservoir. This week I got a text from him with the photo above (left). Soon after I got another text from a club member that there were mayflies in Madison MS. I hastily wrote what seemed like an endless number of checks at work, got them postmarked and in the mail and then notified my coworkers that I was taking off.
I checked some of the various spots and indeed found bugs all along the Trace, but hurricane Marco had just passed through and Laura was on the way, resulting in heavy wave action, low overcast clouds and rain in the forecast for the afternoon. See the heavy wave action below.
At one place I noticed that, based on the wind direction, a tiny section of shore had some lee water, not lee as in quiet, but lee in the manner of just choppy, not the crashing one foot waves that hammered the rest of the shoreline. I saw the bugs flying and, probably due to the cloud cover, some appeared to be hatching into adults and some spinners were falling. Males were flying a few feet off the boughs and husks were making a raft in the lee water, being held in place by the rougher water about forty feet from shore. I didn’t see any surface activity from bream but I was hoping that maybe some were hanging in the lee water and not scattered by the rough water.
The kayak was out of the question because the water was rough and the flies were right next to the bank anyway. With a slightly positive attitude I reached for my rod tube only to discover it was empty, I had neglected to put my rod back in the truck after some casting practice at the house. I was so anxious to try the water I actually considered trying to make a flyrod out of a willow branch just to try and get a fly on the water. I quickly abandoned that idea and just drove home, had lunch with my wife, determined to return with my rod in the afternoon, hoping the weather didn’t worsen as Laura approached the coast.
Back on the Trace after lunch, with a light rain sprinkling my windshield, I was ready with not one but two rods. I chose my old TFO 6 wt which has been broken once, has one guide put on in a field repair and has my old Pfleuger reel which I have had since I was fourteen with more than one screw backed out of it. I figured I wouldn’t risk my high-end stuff on the difficult bank with slippery rocks and willows all around. Even with all its shortcomings it’s way better than a flyrod made from a willow branch!
Husks with spinners were still in a raft by the shore, prevented from drifting further by the heavier wave action beyond the lee corner.
My first cast was immediately busted by a bream. The bream were basically all hanging in one spot due to the way the bugs were being blown into the lee water. It was so easy. I tried every mayfly pattern I had and they all worked. The bite was also more voracious than I’ve experienced before. Even the small bream were easily getting hooked.
My most successful pattern was my Mayfly popper I’ve been making to look like the reservoir’s Hexagenia Bilineata mayflies. I use the same closed cell foam I use in my stripping bucket because it so close to their color. I glue the hook in with Gorilla glue because it solidifies into a foam itself. The Gorilla glue dries to a light color which I then use a peach colored marker to get it closer to the mayfly’s thorax color, and also with a little gold fingernail polish on the front for the neck. See below:
I kept 40 bream and let all the rest go. I am sure I caught well over a hundred. What a blast.
The best fish was probably this nice bull below:
Other, more delicate dry patterns work but they don’t last in the long-haul. The poppers have a little weight and allow you to keep a tight line and then they absorb a lot of abuse. Also a favorite of mine is what I call the “Thin Mint Mayfly”, which has green rubber legs, not exactly a mayfly color but I think its just the motion they provide that helps draw strikes. I do think light colored rubber legs work the best:
I did not have any white poppers with me, but the sportsman that originally showed me the mayfly bite at the Rez (NC), uses a white popper almost exclusively and it works just fine. I tie these patterns because I want to, not necessarily because I have to, but I will say that sometimes when the bream are selective, the following patterns can make a difference. I tried these while I was there and they all worked well:
All in all, a great day. In closing I just have to mention once more how the Tongoriro Roll Cast has been the most revolutionary recent thing to come along for me in the world of fly fishing. My spot on the bank was in between cypress and willows with no room for overhead casting but I wasn’t hampered a bit as I used the TRC to get out where the fish were with no hang-ups or frustration. Also, considering how many casts I made, there was very little wear and tear on my shoulder. My worst physical repercussion was a sore stripping finger. And it hurts so good!